Tip the tool: How to label toolbar functions

Toolbar functions should be labeled consistently starting with a verb which is followed by noun or adverb. We present recommendations to label the functions on Libreoffice' standard toolbar.

Naming Convention

Suitability for learning and self-descriptiveness, two of the basic usability goals, depend largely on the information users can read directly. Most graphical user interfaces use toolbar buttons to provide access to core functions. Those buttons usually contain an icon but no caption. The function is revealed by common sense (left most icon provides New), iconic depiction (a floppy points to Save), and tooltips that are shown when the mouse hovers the control. Obviously the latter are most important and it’s a good idea to have conventions for these labels.

It has become apparent that some of Libreoffice’ toolbar buttons provide confusing and sometimes misleading tooltips. Better labels would not only support learnability but also help to solve some of the mix-ups we found, e.g. in the case of the Navigator. It is common practice to name English functions starting with a verb followed by a noun or adverb. But take care with localization: different languages might have a different grammar! For instance, in German a verb-noun sequence has a strong imperative connotation and it’s better to have noun-verb labels. Anyway, the functions in each languages should be labeled consistently with the specific grammar in mind.

Recommendation for Libreoffice functions in the standard toolbar

We recommend to label all functions starting with a verb followed by noun or adverb (in case of English). Text should be concise, helpful, and easy to read. If the function can be started by shortcut it is added to the text in parentheses. Normal shortcuts combine the control-key (Ctrl) with a letter; the use of simple function keys should be avoided.

Old function label Suggested new label
New Create new document (Ctrl+N)
Open Open document (Ctrl+O)
Save Save document (Ctrl+S)
Send as email Email document¹
Edit File Toggle edit mode¹
Export as PDF Export as PDF
Print File Directly Print document directly¹
Page Preview Preview print output (Ctrl+P)
Spelling & Grammar Check spelling & grammar (F7)
AutoSpellcheck Toggle auto spellcheck¹
Cut Cut marked area (Ctrl+X)
Copy Copy marked area (Ctrl+C)
Paste Paste from clipboard (Ctrl+V)
Format Paintbrush Clone formatting²
Undo Undo last action (Ctrl+Z)
Redo Redo last undo action (Ctrl+Y)
Hyperlink Insert hyperlink
Table Insert table
Show Draw Functions Show draw functions¹
Navigator Show document structure (F5)
Gallery Show gallery functions¹
Data Sources Show data source functions¹
Non Printing Characters Display non printing characters (Ctrl+F10)
LibreOffice Help Open help browser (F1)

¹ It should be considered to remove this function from the standard toolbar

² Some functions need redesign, e.g. toolbar buttons must not get ‘overloaded’.

Conclusion

Functions should be labeled in a definite and unified way. Well named functions help users to understand the program and to learn how to use it efficiently. Convention for labels should be defined depending on the localization.

What do you think about these suggestions? Do you agree?